Any visit to Hue should certainly include a boat trip on the beautiful Perfume River. Boats are readily available for hire, either for a relaxing trip in the vicinity of Hue, or for a longer journey upstream to the tombs of Minh Mang and Gia Long. Night journeys on the river with musical ensembles playing traditional court music can be arranged and are an enchanting experience
The Imperial Tombs
Scattered across the countryside to the south and west of the city, the Tombs of the Nguyen Emperors are, together with the Citadel, Hue’s greatest attraction. These seven tombs, all of which have features of outstanding architectural merit, are often strikingly different.
Kin Thanh Citadel
Cua Dai Beach
Just 5km (3 miles) from Hoi An is the broad silvery expanse of Cua Dai Beach. This stretch of sand is lined with several good beachside resorts, including one of Vietnam’s most expensive, the fabulously indulgent Nam Hai. Some 20km (12 miles), or 25 minutes by speedboat, from Hoi An and Cua Dai Beach is Cu Lao Cham Marine Park, which comprises eight islands that make up the Cham Islands archipelago. The marine park is one of the finest diving spots in central Vietnam. The main Cham Island is known for its rich bounty of swallows’ nests (the species in question is, in fact, German’s swiftlet), used in birds’ nest soup – a prized delicacy in Chinese communities all over Asia
The ancient kingdom of Champa, which is thought to date back to the second century AD and flourished from the fifth to the 15th centuries, once occupied the central Vietnamese coast all the way to the Dong Nai River in the south. After many struggles, Champa was conquered by the Vietnamese – but the Cham people remained. As their kingdom was swallowed piecemeal by the invading Viet (Kinh), increasing numbers of Cham fled to neighbouring Cambodia, though others chose to remain under Viet tutelage in their former homelands. My Son, nestled under the green slopes of Cat’s Tooth Mountain (Nui Rang Meo) some 50km (31 miles) from Hoi An, is the site of Vietnam’s most important Cham monuments and was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1999. It is one of the most atmospheric locations anywhere in the country, with the crumbling ruins set in a verdant jungle. Chosen as a religious sanctuary by King Bhadravarman I in the fourth century, many temples and towers (kalan) were built in this area. There are 11 designated temple groups in My Son, and there are likely to be other groups of ruins that are either unpublicised or undiscovered.
Danang, Quang Ngai and Qui Nhon
The cities of Danang, Quang Ngai and Qui Nhon all had strong American presence throughout the war, but each now offers a chance to soak up the quiet local ambience of Vietnamese life. All three cities are in proximity to spectacular white-sand beaches backed by tall, jagged mountains. Danang is the central commercial hub of the country and boasts all of the modern conveniences of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi in addition to a fine museum on the Cham civilisation.
Ho Chi Minh Masoleum
A visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Lang Chu Tich Ho Chi Minh) is a good starting point for anyone interested in understanding the Vietnam of today. The national hero died in 1969 and was embalmed by Soviet experts. More detail on the great man is provided at the nearby Ho Chi Minh Museum, while Ho Chi Minh’s house, also nearby, is one of the most peaceful places in modern Hanoi
One Pillar Pagoda
The One Pillar Pagoda (Chua Mot Cot) dates from 1049 and is one of the few surviving structures from the original city (although the central shrine was rebuilt in 1955). It is said to have miraculous healing powers
Hoan Kiem Lake
At the heart of old Hanoi is Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Restored Sword), named after the sacred weapon that helped repel a Chinese attack in the 15th century. Ngoc Son Pagoda sits on a small island linked to the shore by a photogenic wooden bridge. The lake supports a large population of turtles
Temple Of Literature
Hanoi’s largest temple complex is the Temple of Literature (Van Mieu Pagoda), with five interconnecting courtyards. Van Mieu was a centre of learning for centuries, and it was here that the Confucian examinations took place
Fully restored in 1997 at a cost of US$15 million, the Opera House (Nha Hat Lon) is one of the best examples of French colonial architecture in Hanoi. The interior is magnificent; try to catch a performance if you can.
Cat Ba Island and National Park
For the truly adventurous (or foolhardy), there is Mount Fansipan (Nui Phan Si Pan), Vietnam’s highest peak at 3,143m (10,310ft), to conquer. A guide is mandatory (by law) for the trek to the summit, which takes a minimum of three days to complete. Directly west of Sa Pa and located in Hoang Lien Son National Park, the scenery is utterly magnificent, notable for its rhododendron-rich forests and exceptional birdlife
Ho Chi Minh
The impressive Reunification Palace (Dinh Thong Nhat) is now open as a museum and offers daily tours through the conference rooms, the Presidential Receiving Room, basement tunnels and war room. Everything has been left pretty much as it was on the fateful day of 30 April 1975 when Communist tanks crashed through the iron gates and overthrew the South Vietnamese Government.
Museum of Vietnamese History
The Museum of Vietnamese History (Bao Tang Lich Su) documents the evolution of Vietnam’s various cultures, from the Dong Son bronze age civilisation through to the southern Chinese Funan civilisation, the Chams and the Khmers. The museum is located in a stunning building which is a fine example of French/Chinese hybrid architecture.
Jade Emperor Pagoda
The small Sino-Vietnamese Jade Emperor Pagoda (Chua Ngoc Huang), aka the Tortoise Pagoda (Phuoc Hai Tu), was built by Cantonese Buddhists in 1909 and is one of the city’s most colourful pagodas. There is a weird and wonderful array of wooden statues, some Buddhist, others Daoist-inspired. Look out for the elaborately robed Jade Emperor himself, and the triple-headed, eight-armed statue of Phat Mau Chau De
Ho Chi Minh City Museum
The Ho Chi Minh City Museum (Bao Tang Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh) is housed in a white neoclassical structure once known as the Gia Long Palace. Built in 1866, this grand colonial edifice contains exhibits detailing the history of the city and southern Vietnam with reference to the long struggle for independence
War Remnants Museum
The items on display at the impressive War Remnants Museum (Nha Trung Bay Toi Ac Chien Tranh) include American tanks, infantry weapons, and the original French guillotine brought to Vietnam in the early 20th century. There are many photos on display showing the distressing effects of war
Fine Arts Museum
The grand, colonial-era Fine Arts Museum (Bao Tang My Thuat) houses various galleries. The first floor features revolving exhibitions of contemporary Vietnamese art. The second floor contains war art, while the third floor features older art, including statues of the Buddha, and Thai and Khmer sculpture
People's Committee Building
Formerly the Hotel de Ville, the People’s Committee Building (UBND-Tran Phu) is the symbol of the French Colonial era and an outstanding city landmark, although members of the public are not admitted. The ornate interior features crystal chandeliers and wall-sized murals.
The pink, colonial-style Municipal Theatre (Nha Hat Thanh Pho) was originally built in 1899 as an opera venue and, after a spell as a fortress HQ for the government, is once again a venue for music, as well as theatre productions and gymnastics events
- Lam Dong Museum
On Hung Vuong Street is the Lam Dong Museum (Bao Tang Lam Dong), an excellent museum that has been recognised by the United Nations for its extensive collection of musical gongs used by the local K’ho, Ma and Churu minorities. Other exhibits include an impressive taxidermy collection of local wildlife; ancient relics from the Champa empire excavated near Cat Tien National Park, with others from recent excavations throughout the province; and full-sized Ma and K’ho tribal longhouses, decorated with musical instruments, weapons and common household items.
Summer Palace of Bao Dai
Tucked away under pine trees at Trieu Viet Vuong Street is the Summer Palace of Bao Dai (Biet Dien Quoc Truong). This Art Deco-influenced abode of Vietnam’s last emperor was built between 1933 and 1938. Also referred to as Dinh III, it is actually one of three palaces (the others being Dinh I and Dinh II, neither of which is currently open to the public) belonging to Bao Dai in Dalat. It’s said that all three are connected by tunnels so that the emperor could secretly visit his mistresses in each one. Although guides will say that the furnishings and artefacts in the house were used by Bao Dai, it is a well-known fact that many of his belongings were carted away in the early years. Outside the mansion, a carnival-like atmosphere prevails, with souvenir vendors, pony rides and Disney characters. To appreciate the villa better, visit it right after it opens in the morning, or just before lunch.
Tiger Falls (Thac Hang Cop) is the grandest waterfall in the Dalat area, and thankfully the least visited or developed, largely because of the long drive down a poor road and a further walk down a very steep hill. The falls are an ideal outing for nature lovers who wish to indulge in some adventure trekking, following the stream as it crashes among the boulders in the rainforest canyon below. Tiger Falls is 14km (9 miles) east of Dalat, past Trai Mat village, where there is a signposted turning on the left.
Da Lat Cable Car
The Dalat Cable Car (Cap Treo Da Lat) is located about 3km (2 miles) south of town. The cable-car ride extends over 2km (1¼ miles) and offers lovely panoramas of villages and mountain forests, all the way to the Bamboo Forest Meditation Centre (Thien Vien Truc Lam). This Zen-style Buddhist monastery was built in 1993 and has about 100 monks and 80 nuns in residence. The temple is said to benefit from perfect feng-shui placement, with Pin Haat Mountain (Nui Pin Haat) behind and Quang Trung Reservoir (Ho Tuyen Lam) below. Beneath the monastery is a picnic area with tables and chairs that overlooks the tranquil reservoir. The artificial lake was created in 1980 and is now a recreational area with rowing-boats and canoes for hire.
Lang Biang Mountain
The 12km (7-mile) drive from Dalat to Langbiang Mountain (Nui Lang Bian) passes through quaint Lat Village, inhabited by K’ho, Lat and Ma minorities. The villagers make a meagre living from the squash, tobacco, coffee, tea and cotton that they grow on the hillsides. Visitors can explore Langbian Mountain’s hiking trails on their own, but hiring a guide offers more options. There are breathtaking vistas of the countryside, and the surrounding pine forests are said to harbour a few surviving bears, deers, leopards and boars.